If developers get water, residents get hosed with more restrictions and higher rates, City Council to decide
Developers win water battle for now
■Camarillo won’t restrict meter access
By Michele Willer-Allred
Special to The Star
The Camarillo City Council backed away from an ordinance change that would have restricted water service to developments underway in the city.
Faced with state imposed water reductions, Camarillo proposed an urgency ordinance that would curb issuance of “will- serve” letters, which allow developers to obtain city water meters for completed projects. The city would resume providing the letters when the state lifts the mandatory cutbacks, the ordinance reads.
But developers told the council Wednesday that approval would stop in midstream numerous city development projects they’ve already invested millions of dollars to complete.
“Really, what we were looking for tonight was a decision to buy some time without any will serve letters issued to decide what the best way to handle this,” said Tom Fox, the city’s public works director.
After several unsuccessful attempts to pass some kind of ordinance during Wednesday’s nearly four hour meeting, the council agreed the city would continue to work with developers and the community on ideas to meet water-conservation goals and bring back the issue at a September meeting.
Developers and construction advocates said not enough time was given before the water ordinance went in front of the council. Councilman Kevin Kildee said the governor’s order to cut water use didn’t give the city time.
Councilwoman Jan Mc-Donald said current water customers and residents need to be heard, too.
The city was ordered by the state in May to reduce water use by 20 percent of its 2013 levels within the city’s water service area, which includes about two thirds of the community.
Tracking began in June, and water usage that month was 23 percent lower than it was for that month in 2013.
For all of 2015, however, the average reduction has only been 16 percent.
“If we continue on a trend with that average, we will not meet the water standard that has been imposed upon us,” Fox said.
“Therefore, while the city has made progress towards compliance, the demands of pending new customers will likely prevent the city from achieving compliance.”
Fox said further water reduction measures and severe fines could be imposed by the state if goals aren’t met by next year.
The public works director said the city also may need to move from its current Stage 2 water shortage level to Stage 3 or higher and could face a significant loss to its urban forest.
About 260 residential units and 40,000 square feet of commercial development are under construction and have will-serve letters, which will increase water demand to about 1.5 percent above the 2013 baseline.
About 1,400 residential units and a million square feet of commercial industrial development projects do not have will serve letters. Fox said if those projects were completed and connected to the city’s water system, they would increase water demand by 9 percent to 10 percent over 2013 levels and require “significantly greater” water restrictions on current customers.
“If there was a way for sure we knew it would rain this winter, then we’d probably be in front of you with a different strategy. But we do have a current water-supply issue that if we don’t have rain this winter is going to get exacerbated,” Fox said.
Several developers said they already have invested millions of dollars to move their projects forward and that the city would be initiating a building moratorium in the city under the guise of a water conservation ordinance if it were approved.
“We don’t know any municipality anywhere that has taken on this very drastic decision and approach,” said Arturo Sneider, CEO and cofounder of Primestor Development Inc.
Representatives from Fairfield Residential, developer for the Village Gateway project in Camarillo, said they wanted to see their project exempt because significant grading has been done and the ordinance could create financing issues for their $150 million project.
“To say we’re going to shut down an industry because two years from now we may still be in a drought is just not acceptable, at least to me,” Mayor Bill Little said.
Kildee said the city’s water customers already have cut their water usage significantly and he wasn’t in support of anything that would put customers at an even higher tier rate in the future.
Fox said city officials hope to meet with developers and the community before the September meeting on the issue.
A progress report will be given to the council next month.
“I think it’s important to do it right and take the time that’s needed,” Fox said, “but understanding that time is of the essence and we need to bring this back as soon as possible.”